Prime Minister Stephen Harper has shuffled his cabinet a week after accepting the resignation of John Duncan as aboriginal affairs minister.
New Brunswick MP Bernard Valcourt is replacing Duncan. Valcourt had been associate minister of national defence, putting him in charge of buying equipment for the Canadian Forces.
British Columbia MP Kerry-Lynne Findlay is promoted to replace Valcourt in the defence post. She had been parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice.
Veterans Affairs Minister Stephen Blaney of Quebec adds responsibility for francophone issues to his duties and National Revenue Minister Gail Shea will add the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) file to her current role. Valcourt had held both portfolios.
The mini-shuffle was announced in a press release Friday morning.
"The ceremony was private and is over. This is in keeping with past practice when replacement ministers have been named," said Andrew MacDougall, Harper's spokesman.
3rd associate minister of defence
Findlay is the third person in less than two years to fill the associate minister of defence role.
Julian Fantino was the first person in the job, appointed in May 2011. Fantino was shuffled to international co-operation last summer and Valcourt was shuffled in to replace Fantino.
The role had been seen as important, with Canada set to spend $240 billion on new military equipment, including trucks, helicopters, ships and fighter jets, over 20 years. But with controversy over a plan to replace the current fleet of fighter jets with F-35 stealth fighters, Harper handed over military procurement to Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose.
Findlay said in a statement Friday that she looks forward to supporting Defence Minister Peter MacKay.
"Our government is delivering on its promise to build a first-class, modern military that is ready to take on the challenges of the 21st century," she said. "I am honoured that Prime Minister Harper has asked me to continue this important work as associate minister of national defence."
Although he didn't then have responsibility for First Nations issues, Valcourt attended the Crown First Nations Gathering in January 2012. He had served as minister of state for Indian Affairs and Northern Development under then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.
Aboriginal leader praises Valcourt
In a statement, Valcourt thanked Harper for putting him on the aboriginal affairs file.
"This January, the government committed itself to a high-level dialogue on the treaty relationship and comprehensive claims. I am firmly of the view that working together is the best way to achieve our shared objective of healthier, more prosperous and self-sufficient aboriginal communities," he said.
"I look forward to meeting with aboriginal leaders in the weeks and months to come. I also welcome the opportunity to work with the territorial governments across the North on our shared priorities."
NDP aboriginal affairs critic Jean Crowder said in a statement that it's a critical time for Canada in an attempt to reconcile with aboriginal people.
"While we welcome the prime minister's appointment of a full-time minister to the aboriginal affairs and northern development portfolio, and welcome Mr. Valcourt to the job, we are disappointed that these responsibilities weren't handed to a more senior minister in this government," Crowder said.
"Unfortunately, the new minister's statement accepting this position repeated the same tired Conservative line that this government is only going to work with "willing partners" and only on the priorities the Conservatives outlined."
Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, welcomed Valcourt's appointment, which he said comes at a "true moment of reckoning" for First Nations and Canada.
"We hope that Minister Valcourt will work with the First Nation leadership directly to advance priority areas to achieve transformative change for our peoples," Atleo said in a written statement.
"I look forward to meeting with the minister as soon as possible to discuss immediate next steps in facilitating this dialogue, and together with the leadership, driving forward the work of building stronger First Nations and a stronger Canada."
Atleo also thanked Duncan for his hard work as minister.
Betty Ann Lavallée, national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, praised Valcourt in a statement released Friday afternoon. Lavallée represents off-reserve aboriginal people.
"It’s clear that Minister Valcourt has the experience and qualifications necessary to manage such an important portfolio that affects so many lives," she said. "I look forward to meeting with him soon to continue to move the agenda forward regarding urban and rural aboriginal peoples who are living off-reserve.
"I was also pleased to see that the prime minister appointed someone from my home province of New Brunswick. It will be a pleasure to sit down and share our common understanding of issues that affect aboriginal peoples from coast to coast."
Manitoba chief criticizes Valcourt
A statement by Derek Nepinak, a prominent First Nations leader and grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, criticized Valcourt's statement as indicating "a tightly controlled authoritarian Harper regime."
"It would be nice to hear the words or a statement from the new minister opposed to regurgitation from the previous minister," Nepinak said.
"I understand the new minister has a strong and accomplished record in Eastern Canada. Whether his strong record will mean anything in the highly contained and controlled Harper regime remains to be seen."
Nepinak pointed to the numerous problems plaguing the relationship between the federal government and First Nations people, including legislative changes on which First Nations say they haven't been properly consulted, inadequate on-reserve housing, water and sewer systems, and the desire by First Nations communities to set up new resource-sharing agreements.
He says he hopes a minister from the Atlantic can understand that First Nations communities in the west are fundamentally different because of the treaties negotiated with the Crown.